SINGAPORE - Research has found that gingko nuts contain a substance which can ease asthma symptoms and expel mucus from the respiratory tract, Dr Tan Yoke Khim, a respiratory physician at Gleneagles Medical Centre, acknowledged.
But gingko nuts and other herbs are not part of established treatment for asthma, she stressed.
The chronic inflammatory disease affecting the small airways of the lungs is treated with two types of medication.
Long-term control medicine, such as inhaled corticosteriods, reduce airway inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath and coughing.
Quick-relief medicine relieves asthma symptoms when they flare up, which can happen so severely that the person has an asthma attack.
This can happen when a person with asthma is exposed to triggers, such as infections of the upper respiratory tract or allergens, said Dr Tan. Some common allergens are house dust mites, pollen and animal dander.
Even gastroesophageal reflux, in which acid from the stomach flows backwards into the foodpipe, can trigger an attack, Dr Tan added.
She said: "During an attack, the airways become swollen and the muscles around them contract, causing them to become narrow and mucus to be secreted. All these make it difficult for air to enter and leave the air-sacs."
Some patients who do not seek treatment may grow accustomed to their symptoms, Dr Tan said. They compensate by doing less so that they do not exert and aggravate their symptoms.
But this is dangerous as it may lead to respiratory failure and the need for mechanical ventilation, resulting in, as Dr Tan put it, "an expensive and hair-raising intensive care experience".
Delaying treatment can also lead to brain damage or death, she said.
She added: "They should have an asthma action plan which can help them to kick-start their treatment during an attack."
To prevent an attack, patients also have to be able to recognise and avoid asthma triggers.
Dr Tan observed that asthmatic patients here get attacks because of their lifestyles.
For instance, as a result of ending work late, they consume their dinner just two hours before bedtime, which may result in gastroesophageal reflux that leads to pain and discomfort.
They should have dinner at least three hours prior to bedtime and avoid supper, Dr Tan advised.
Asthma can affect people of all ages at any point in their lives. An adult or an elderly person can still have the disease even though he did not have it as a child.
Dr Tan said the diagnosis may be missed in the early days because patients ignore their symptoms, treat them lightly or doctors did not pick them up.
Those who exhibit any symptoms should consult a doctor and take a test, known as spirometry, which measures how well the lungs are functioning.
Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.